Naked Athletes: What’s the Problem?

There’s nothing wrong, Brandon Sneed writes, with a magazine featuring pictures of nude athletes. If anything, it’s motivation.

(Full disclosure: I write for ESPN The Magazine. Actually have my first major story in this very issue [“Nobody Walks Alone“] So it’s not like I’m totally objective. But I’ve loved the Body Issue ever since ESPN started it three years ago, way before I started writing for them.)

The 2011 Body Issue has been described by CNN broadcasters as “salacious” and some of my more religious brethren and sistren as … well, they didn’t actually say anything specifically beyond, “Well now, that’s quite a cover.” I actually don’t blame them. It’s shocking, seeing a magazine with some naked guy’s butt or some chick holding a snowboard with her breast cancer awareness barely covered by her hair.

(Of course, that is what I remember those Adam-and-Eve cartoons looking like in Sunday School. Now, the pictures with the fellas’ rears all in your face? Can’t justify that. All Adam ever needed was a leaf. Those sneaky cartoon artists.)

If I have young kids who read the magazine, I feel funny about letting them look at this one. So I understand. And I’ll agree with the CNN broadcaster: There’s nothing modest about the pictures.

But for those of you perhaps more concerned: There’s also nothing pornographic about them, either. This isn’t Playboy or Maxim or Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.

It’s a celebration of the athletic form. It’s an appreciation for what athletes are. And c’mon, you gotta find it a little motivational. At least physically, most of us who read that magazine definitely wouldn’t mind resembling these athletes a little more.

I mean, what man alive is going to honestly and objectively look at that picture of Blake Griffin and say, “Nah, no thanks, I’ll take my soft belly and lovehandles, the ladies really dig those instead tof hat 18-pack and you know, looking like Michelangelo just carved you from marble.” (That’s my wife’s metaphor. She also said, “He’s got like, the perfect body.” I promptly did 500 pushups and crunches. Actually, I didn’t. I drank a beer. But I did vow to start working out hardcore again. Which I do like every other month. But anyway…)

Seriously for a minute: Athletes inspire me. Especially athletes that look like that. They make me want to get so much more out of all of my life, especially my body, because the human body can do such amazing things and because it makes me feel like there is so much potential for … I don’t know, exactly. Just more.

These athletes make me want to be better at games like basketball even though I have less chance of going pro than I do of becoming a rockstar. They make me want to try crazy things like snowboarding and skydiving. And they make me want to be in better shape so I can actually play whatever it is I decide to play for more than five minutes without my insides exploding.

Anyway. My point is: Whatever your beliefs or whatever your politics or whatever your preferences, these athletes are about more than muscles, and this magazine seems like it’s about more than using sex to sell. Was this a strategic move to possibly counter Sports Illustrated‘s Swimsuit Edition? Probably. Was this a somewhat gimmicky means to move more copies and grab more subscriptions? I’m confident saying almost unquestionably of course. But it’s also ambitious and edgy, and the goal is clearly this huge reach for something truly artistic, for some beautiful way to combine nudity with athletic form.

It works.

Anyway. Forgive the ramble. The whole point of this was to highlight a few of the good things those naked athletes are involved in. Specifically, the four athletes that were featured on the cover. (All images via You can purchase the covers here.)

This is a whole other kind of motivation. I feel good about myself for buying someone’s lunch. Then I read about these folks funneling mountains of dollars into some of the most compelling causes ever.

Don’t need to look like Blake Griffin to get better at that.

(For regular updates on athletes doing good like these, follow GoodCal on Twitter and Facebook and maybe even bookmark Thanks!)


Blake Griffin

NBA forward for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Started Dunking for Dollars charity to donate $100 for every dunk of his to benefit fight against childhood obesity.

Works with the nonprofit Aid Still Required, which was founded to champion forgotten issues and people left behind after natural disasters and other crises, and after the world has turned its attention to other matters. Griffin has participated in numerous fundraisers with ASR, including a recent auction of his luggage.

ASR projects provide means to self-sufficiency, whether it be small business opportunities, medical care, schooling for kids who otherwise wouldn’t get it, or an early-warning system to alert people of a coming tsunami. Each project is performed in as environmentally-friendly manner as possible.

Their current outreach campaign for Haiti involves celebrities and athletes using their fan sites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to promote awareness and raise funds for projects.

Also, you remember that Kia that Griffin famously dunked over in the 2011 NBA Dunk Contest? He donated it to a charity auction with to raise money for Stand Up To Cancer.

Hope Solo

Goalkeeper for United States women’s soccer.

Not related to Han.

Running this weekend’s 2011 Chicago Marathon as part of the Bank of America Let’s Run Together relay team (which she announces in this YouTube Video). The program allows 13 runners to run with Solo and her Team USA teammates Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan in addition to getting $5,000 donated in their name to the charity of their choice. The marathon reportedly pumps $170 million into the greater Chicago area economy every year, along with sending $12 million to various charities.

Solo also has a powerful story of love and redemption based around her remarkable relationship with her father, Jeffrey, a Vietnam vet who died of heart failure in June 2007. He’d been homeless for significant portions of his life, yet still Solo found inspiration from him. A year later, Solo led the United States to a gold medal in the Beijing Olympics.

Jose Reyes

MLB shortstop for the New York Mets.

One of 25 Major League Baseball players who teamed with Charity Wines to create their own wine. Reyes’ is called “Caber-Reyes.” Why? To raise money for charities via the Longball Cellars Collection. Nearly 1 million bottles were sold and $1.6 million distributed to causes across America.

He was also part of the Mets team that earlier this year fought MLB commissioner Bud Selig for the right to wear commemorative “FDNY” caps during their game on 9/11/11, the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Selig won, though to great public outrage, and went so far as to have the caps forcibly removed from the Mets players between a memorial ceremony and the first pitch.

Gretchen Bleiler

Olympic snowboarder. 2006 Olympic silver medalist.

Works with Climate Project and the National Resources Defense Council on building awareness around environmental issues.

She is part of’s online march against climate change and is a member of the Surfrider Foundation.

Her Oakley signature line of clothing is eco-friendly, and she’s an outspoken advocate of eco-friendly, well, everything.


Originally appeared at HeyGoodCall.

For more stories about sports people being good people, visit

—Main Photo via The Province

About Brandon Sneed

Brandon Sneed is the author of The Edge of Legend. He also writes for ESPN The Magazine,, and other places with names, and he is the founder of GoodCall ( @heygoodcalll). He really wishes NZT was real.


  1. What can make these shots pornographic (or not) is their marketing. On the end user side – it’s pornographic if you use it as a masturbation aid.

    I find these pictures erotic and stimulating, so for me, they are pornographic – but I agree that that is not all they are.

  2. I know someone who may disagree with you Brandon. He has termed this kind of photography ‘sporno’ just to emphasise how pornographic it is. I give you Mark Simpson:

  3. The Greeks and Romans appreciated naked human form, and so do I.

    From some older heterosexual guys, I hear them complain that women today expect them to be more than a good provider; they need to take care of themselves, staying attractive and being in good shape. I have little sympathy for this lament. What is good for the goose is good for the gander!

  4. Funny. According to Yashar Ali’s GMP posting from today, body image is a women only problem. Guess he needs to start reading something other than Seventeen.

  5. Aya, that’s a great comment. Thank you.

  6. They’re beautiful pictures, artistically. But yeah, there’s nothing pornographic or sexually appealing about them for me. What these athletes do is incredible, but I wouldn’t necessarily want all men to look like that. I wouldn’t write someone off for looking super athletic (they certainly worked hard to get there) but I find love handles super cute and adore skinny boys. The male form is incredible, in all its shapes, sizes, and heights.

  7. As a photographer, I think these pictures are gorgeous and very artistically appealing.

  8. I don’t have a problem with it. But I saw a picture of Hope Solo watering her lawn naked. What does that have to do with sports? Slip n slide?

  9. I don’t have a problem with it but I’m for equality. The women should be able to show just as much skin as the men.

  10. As a comic book reader, I can attest that the beauty of the male Physical Form holds no repulsive effect on me. however the nature of male beauty does bring about the troupe of M.A.P.P

    …Man As Protector & Provider…

    A Man’s Physical Form is just a tool of the violent protection of WOMEN and nothing else! Please understand that there are as many homophobic Women perpetuating the exploitation of the male frame for as the nearest white nationalist homophobe.

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